[Summer Planning] Tips for Time Management in the Classroom

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 -- Shannan LaMalfa

You are probably laughing at the title of this blog. As if educators have the luxury of time! I understand you don’t have time. I mean, I really understand. While I was teaching at the elementary level, I remember anxiously anticipating recess so that I could walk my students outside and then finally grab my one bathroom break between the start of the day and lunch—assuming I didn’t have recess duty that day. And in the classroom, I had the policy of “ask three before me.” Without that, I’d end up with a line of students relying on me for every question, which reduced the amount of time I had to support students.

Much of your daily schedule likely depends on your school’s or district’s master building schedule. Of course, you don’t have control over that framework. However, there are lots of tricks of the trade to help make it work for you.

Plenty of time-saving ideas stem from working with your team teachers. We all know that time before and after school is sacred. It’s the time that you need to make sure that everything is in order for your day and to manage all of the details of curriculum, instruction, and assessment that you’re expected to keep track of. This time can easily be interrupted by students in need of support if there is not a proactive plan in place. Some of my teams from the past have created schedules and rotated their availability to make sure that a qualified educator is free to work with students. For example, the middle school team I worked on had a calendar schedule to ensure that one teacher would always be available in the same classroom before school started to provide support. This minimized students seeking out different teachers, often with similar questions. It also allowed all of the teachers on the team to learn more about each other’s students and provide support not just to students but to each other by brainstorming ideas to help various learners.

Within the classroom, there are many strategies that can be implemented to maximize instructional time and create flex time to work with students in need of additional support. Here are a few of my favorite simple ideas to improve time-on-task for students and reduce time lost for all:

  • Share the classroom with your students. Talk with them about how you can all work together to protect instructional time during the school day. Help them understand how they will benefit from time management in the classroom so that it becomes a shared priority.
  • Set up students for success with clear classroom management expectations. Even we as adults thrive on routine (to a degree). When students know what to expect, time is much more easily managed. Teach these expectations. Schedule regular activities, and set firm guidelines for behavior during unstructured time like labs or teamwork. Make sure that these expectations are clearly communicated and documented for your students.
  • Choose an instructional management model that works for you. Some educators use a flipped classroom, while others use learning centers or stations. There’s no right or wrong model to use; try a few different methods, and choose the one that works with your teaching and organization style. The goal is simply to make your time more manageable so that you are better able to reach each learner.

One of the best tips for maximizing classroom time is to make starting class on time a focus for both you and your students. When students are taught routines for starting class on time, it will happen. Many educators implement bell work or seatwork so that students get started right away with daily routines that naturally transition into instruction time. Communicate clear expectations and consequences for when students are late. Implementing schoolwide programs can also help start class on time.

I once worked with an extraordinary high school principal who reduced daily tardiness from hundreds of students to nearly none, simply by 1) communicating clear expectations, 2) following through on those expectations, 3) and making tardiness an inconvenience to high schoolers. This process required staff development and teamwork across all teachers and support staff in the school, but it worked. Students knew that being late would result in the major inconvenience of being unable to enter class, having to obtain a documentation of the tardy, and finally, being escorted by a designated staff member back to class in order to be provided entry. This type of program to address tardiness is a lot of work, but staff and students benefit when learning time is treated as sacred.

With all of the demands already on teachers’ time, making significant changes like these in the classroom can feel like an overwhelming process. Check out this post on how teachers can lead change in the classroom for effective change management tips to make the process go smoothly! And, if you have classroom time-management tips of your own, we’d love to hear them! Share your ideas in the comments section below.